Thursday, October 6, 2016

Southern Circuit: Donald Cried (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Meet the Filmmaker Behind “Donald Cried”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The scenery is unfamiliar to Key West: Mounds of dirty snow on each side of the street, a taxi plowing its way through the slush. This is the homecoming for Peter Latang as he returns to Rhode Island to collect his grandmother’s ashes. Little is he expecting to hook up with a ghost-from-the-past, his old high-school friend Donald.

An unlikely twosome, at first glance. Peter looks the part of a New York banker, neatly trimmed hair, insulated from the world with a scarf and topcoat. Donald, on the other hand, clad in his baggy jeans and hooded coat, flashes a crazed gaze from behind his thick glasses, sporting wild and unruly hair, a bristly beard, and the toothy smile of a dog reunited with its old master.

Like a bad dream, Peter can’t shake Donald. Forced by circumstances to ride in his van from one old haunt to the next, Peter finds himself thrust into a past that he’s tried to put behind him.

This is the premise of an off-kilter buddy movie, “Donald Cried.” It will be showing Monday night at Tropic Cinema as second in the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers.

A 6 p.m. Champagne Reception will welcome Jesse Wakeman, the co-writer and lead actor in this brilliant character study. The 37-year-old filmmaker will be here to introduce his movie and take questions afterward.

We got a jump on the questions, catching him between planes as he plies the Southern Circuit with his new film. These screenings in 21 Southern communities are funded in part by a grant from South Arts, a regional arts organization, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. The series is sponsored locally by Jean Carper.

“I had a real figure in my life like Donald,” admits Jesse Wakeman. “It’s a universal thing, that old friend from high school who somehow remembers you as his best friend.”

His two partners had similar experiences.

Co-writer Kyle Espeleta and Wakeman went to high school together in a small Northern California town. Co-writer and director Kris Avedisian grew up in Rhode Island.

In “Donald Cried,” Jesse Wakeman provides a stoic foil as Peter. Kris Avedisian gives us a manic Donald, a pathetic figure who is as desperate to hang onto the past as Peter is to put it behind him.

Donald’s vulnerability is offset by Peter’s guilt. The film is at the same time funny, poignant, and painful.

The threesome -- Jesse, Kyle, and Kris -- started out making short films. “Honestly, we were just trying to find a way to make a legitimate movie,” Wakeman tells the story. A 2012 short version of “Donald Cried” seemed to resonate with audiences, so they decided to do a feature-length version. “How can our small crew with no money do it?” was the question they asked themselves.

So they raised the funds privately, through a small group of investors in Rhode Island and New York. “That’s what allowed us to get the movie off the ground. Our producer Kyle Martin was critical to getting the film made, making the production come together. Friends and family took on roles with the movie. The van that Peter and Donald drive around in the film was Kris’s own car,” Wakeman points out the austerity of the production.

Kris Avedisian is usually found behind the camera. “But he would sometimes do a goofy character,” recalls Wakeman. “He developed it through trying out the character, talking out loud, while driving his van around Warwick. And then Kyle and I came up from New York, and we shot the short in two days. And then the feature followed.”

“Donald Cried” has the feel of real life. Its small-town verisimilitude may remind you of “Nobody’s Fool” or “Beautiful Girls.”

How much was improvised? “It actually stuck close to the script,” says Jesse Wakeman. “After all the years of planning and developing the film, we pretty much knew the lines. And being from small towns, we’d all lived it.”

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